Klyne SK-5 preamplifier

Klyne Audio Arts is such a low-profile outfit that I marvel at its continued existence. It is reliably absent from the Audio and Stereo Review annual equipment directories, and if Stan Klyne has ever run an advertisement for any of his products anywhere, I haven't seen it, Yet Klyne Audio Arts always manages to have an exhibit at CES, where they display some of the most beautiful preamps and head-amps we see there, only to go underground again for another six months.


Klyne's SK-2A head-amp is, as far as I know, the first such device to provide truly flexible, switchable cartridge-load selection. They also contain high-end roll-off switches to tame the rising top that seems to afflict so many moving-coil cartridges. This flexibility has been carried over to the SK-5 full-function preamplifier.

Removing the preamp's top panel exposes four banks of eight tiny slide switches, all of which control phono-stage parameters. Controllable characteristics are: MM or MC gain; MC gain adjust (22, 25, 28 or 34dB); MC contour (selecting flat high end or rolloffs above 12kKz to 50kHz, in nine steps); MM or MC load impedance (47k ohms down to 15 ohms in eleven steps); and MM capacitance (650pF to 150pF in four steps). There is also provision for changing the gain of the SK-5's line amplifier section from the supplied 18dB to 12 or 24dB.

There is no other preamplifier I know of that allows this much tailoring to the needs of the user. And these adjustments are not mere fripperies for fussbudgets. Every one of these controllable parameters affects the sound, for better or for worse, and optimizing them all will enable one to get the best performance from virtually any cartridge—that is, if the prearnp itself is good enough to warrant all the fuss.

Someone at Klyne Audio Arts must be into Zen. The SK-5's front panel is so simple and so logically laid out that once you've optimized your cartridge interface, you could throw out the instructions (footnote 1). The front-panel controls have that almost sensuous smoothness and ease of motion that have earned Japanese products a reputation for "sexy" feel, making the SK-5 a continuing pleasure to use.

The whole impression is meticulous attention to detail. Inside, the SK-5 is a work of art: one of the most beautiful electronic interiors I've seen. Stan was showing the SK-5 (and its cheaper cousin, the SK-4) with plexiglass covers at the Summer CES. He ought to make the see-through tops available as an option to owners who appreciate fine form. He might even supply them with tiny light bulbs on the underside to illuminate the interior! DC-powered, the lights could do no harm to sound.

Although the SK-5 lacks tone controls, there is nothing niinirnalis about its control iine-up It offers, in fact, some control features that are absent from many perfectionist preamps, including polarity reversal, output mute, and mono A+B channel blend for reproducing mono discs and noisy FM stereocasts. (Most FM tuners have their own mono switch, hut many that offer automatic weak-station switching to mono don't have such a switch Also, multipath interference can render strong signals unlistenable in stereo.)

The SK-5 has a tape monitor loop with buffered ouputs (so that the recorder inputs and interconnect cables won't load down the signal path), but there is only one such loop. The assumption here would seem to be that people who want a preamp of this caliber aren't enough into tape to own two machines, an assumption whose validity I question.

The balance control works in both stereo and mono modes (footnote 2), but has limited range. At either rotational limit, the center image from the speakers only shifts off-center by about 2/3 the distance between the speakers. I don't care for this arrangement because there are times when it is useful to be able to kill one channel completely (for example, when trouble-shooting a dead channel). I see no compensating effect that justifies the SK-5's limited balance-control action.

Klyne recommends leaving the preamp turned on at all times, but there's an AC switch if you insist on using it. The switch is located at the back of the unit, and is inconvenient enough that you'll probably follow Klyne's on all-the-time recommendation without feeling frustrated. There is also a noise-muting circuit that prevents output pulses during turn-on or turn-off. Unlike many solid-state preamps, however, the SKi does not need to be left on at all times. If there was any difference in sound between initial fire-up and its performance after 24 hours, I couldn't hear it,

Our first listen to an SK-5 was shortly after Summer CES, when we had the loan of a pre-production sample for only a few days! I did not have it long enough to form any solid opinions about it, but Larry Archibald was impressed enough to cart it over to my listening room for a quick listen. I was so taken with its high end that after it was shipped back to Klyan, I couldn't remember anything else about its sound! There was, it now turns out, a reason for this: ii wasn't doing anything wrong.

Now, after many hours of leisurely listening, I am prepared to declare that this is the most nearly perfect preamplifier I have ever heard, bar none! It is neutral almost to a fault

Its low end is awesomely deep and as solid as a rock; midbass is controlled and detailed; the entire audio spectrum is portrayed seamlessly and without recognizable coloration. Inner detailing is quite extraordinary: a chorus is heard as a group of individual voices rather than as a homogeneous choral sound: Tiny, extramusical sounds, such as breath-taking, rustlings of clothing, and the quiet turning of pages are more clearly audible than I am accustomed to. These are not extraneous sounds that detract from the musical presentation; they. are part of the sound of in-the-flesh music-making, and they contribute markedly to the realism of reproduced sound (footnote 3).

The preamplifier section is very quiet, producing only a muted hiss at settings that would blow you out of the room. Soundstage presentation, too, is superb: broad, deep, and spacious, with stereo imaging that is specific and very stable. The presence range is right-on, neither forward nor laid-back. The high end is, well, simply gorgeous: smooth, open, airy, and completely free from texturing. The best top I have ever heard from any solid-state preamp!

Is it really perfect? I would say it's as close to being perfect, in terms of literal accuracy, as any preamplifier can be expected to be. In short, the Klyne SK-5 is one humdinger of a preamp, and a bargain even at its rather steep price!

Footnote 1: But you'd better not. You may change cartridges, and you'll never identify those switches wthout a program.—J. Gordon Holt

Footnote 2: Don't laugh. You'd be surprised how many preamps have the balance control ahead of the mono switch.—J. Gordon Holt

Footnote 3: This is definitely the effect once you get used to the Klyne, but at first these details are so surprising that they distract your attention from the music. After this initial period, however, you find yourself more drawn in to the music-making.—Larry Archibald

Klyne Audio Arts
Olympia, WA 98501
(360) 273-8477